Fall Of Danton Robespierre Marat And Other Jacobins

These monsters fell victims by the same means they had used for the

destruction of others. Marat was poignarded in 1793, by Charlotte

Corday, a young female, who had cherished in a feeling between lunacy

and heroism, the ambition of ridding the world of a tyrant. Danton was

guillotined in 1794. Robespierre followed soon after. His fall is thus

described by Scott in his life of Napoleon.

At length his fate
urged him on to the encounter. Robespierre descended

to the convention, where he had of late but rarely appeared, like the

far nobler dictator of Rome; and in his case also, a band of senators

was ready to poignard the tyrant on the spot, had they not been afraid

of the popularity he was supposed to enjoy, and which they feared might

render them instant victims to the revenge of the Jacobins. The speech

which Robespierre addressed to the convention was as menacing as the

first distant rustle of the hurricane, and dark and lurid as the eclipse

which announces its approach. Anxious murmurs had been heard among the

populace who filled the tribunes, or crowded the entrances of the hall

of the convention, indicating that a second 31st of May (being the day

on which the Jacobins proscribed the Girondists) was about to witness a

similar operation.

The first theme of the gloomy orator was the display of his own virtues

and his services as a patriot, distinguishing as enemies to their

country all whose opinions were contrary to his own. He then reviewed

successively the various departments of the government, and loaded them

in turn with censure and contempt. He declaimed against the supineness

of the committees of public safety and public security, as if the

guillotine had never been in exercise; and he accused the committee of

finance of having counter-revolutionized the revenues of the republic.

He enlarged with no less bitterness on withdrawing the artillery-men

(always violent Jacobins) from Paris, and on the mode of management

adopted in the conquered countries of Belgium. It seemed as if he wished

to collect within the same lists all the functionaries of the state, and

in the same breath to utter defiance to them all.

The usual honorary motion was made to print the discourse; but then the

storm of opposition broke forth, and many speakers vociferously

demanded, that before so far adopting the grave inculpations which it

contained, the discourse should be referred to the two committees.

Robespierre in his turn, exclaimed, that this was subjecting his speech

to the partial criticism and revision of the very parties whom he had

accused. Exculpations and defences were heard on all sides against the

charges which had been thus sweepingly brought forward; and there were

many deputies who complained in no obscure terms of individual tyranny,

and of a conspiracy on foot to outlaw and murder such part of the

convention as might be disposed to offer resistance. Robespierre was but

feebly supported, save by Saint Just, Couthon, and by his own brother.

After a stormy debate, in which the convention were alternately swayed

by their fear and their hatred of Robespierre, the discourse was finally

referred to the committees, instead of being printed; and the haughty

and sullen dictator saw in the open slight, thus put on his measures and

opinions, the sure mark of his approaching fall.

He carried his complaints to the Jacobin Club, to repose, as he

expressed it, his patriotic sorrows in their virtuous bosoms, where

alone he hoped to find succour and sympathy. To this partial audience he

renewed, in a tone of yet greater audacity, the complaints with which he

had loaded every branch of the government, and the representative body

itself. He reminded those around him of various heroic eras, when their

presence and their pikes had decided the votes of the trembling

deputies. He reminded them of their pristine actions of revolutionary

vigour--asked them if they had forgot the road to the convention, and

concluded by pathetically assuring them, that if they forsook him, "he

stood resigned to his fate; and they should behold with what courage he

would drink the fatal hemlock." The artist David, caught him by the hand

as he closed, exclaiming, in rapture at his elocution, "I will drink it

with thee."

The distinguished painter has been reproached, as having, on the

subsequent day, declined the pledge which he seemed so eagerly to

embrace. But there were many of his original opinion, at the time he

expressed it so boldly; and had Robespierre possessed either military

talents, or even decided courage, there was nothing to have prevented

him from placing himself that very night at the head of a desperate

insurrection of the Jacobins and their followers.

Payan, the successor of Hebert, actually proposed that the Jacobins

should instantly march against the two committees, which Robespierre

charged with being the focus of the anti-revolutionary machinations,

surprise their handful of guards, and stifle the evil with which the

state was menaced, even in the very cradle. This plan was deemed too

hazardous to be adopted, although it was one of those sudden and master

strokes of policy which Machiavel would have recommended. The fire of

the Jacobins spent itself in tumult, and threatening, and in expelling

from the bosom of their society Collot d'Herbois, Tallien, and about

thirty other deputies of the mountain party, whom they considered as

specially leagued to effect the downfall of Robespierre, and whom they

drove from their society with execration and even blows.

Collot d'Herbois, thus outraged, went straight from the meeting of the

Jacobins to the place where the committee of public safety was still

sitting, in consultation on the report which they had to make to the

convention the next day upon the speech of Robespierre. Saint Just, one

of their number, though warmly attached to the dictator, had been

intrusted by the committee with the delicate task of drawing up that

report. It was a step towards reconciliation; but the entrance of Collot

d'Herbois, frantic with the insults he had received, broke off all hope

of accommodation betwixt the friends of Danton and those of Robespierre.

D'Herbois exhausted himself in threats against Saint Just, Couthon, and

their master, Robespierre, and they parted on terms of mortal and avowed

enmity. Every exertion now was used by the associated conspirators

against the power of Robespierre, to collect and combine against him the

whole forces of the convention, to alarm the deputies of the plain with

fears for themselves, and to awaken the rage of the mountaineers,

against whose throat the dictator now waved the sword, which their short

sighted policy had placed in his hands. Lists of proscribed deputies

were handed around, said to have been copied from the tablets of the

dictator; genuine or false, they obtained universal credit and currency;

and these whose names stood on the fatal scrolls, engaged themselves for

protection in the league against their enemy. The opinion that his fall

could not be delayed now became general.

This sentiment was so commonly entertained in Paris on the 9th

Thermidor, or 27th July, that a herd of about eighty victims, who were

in the act of being dragged to the guillotine, were nearly saved by

means of it. The people, in a generous burst of compassion, began to

gather in crowds, and interrupted the melancholy procession, as if the

power which presided over these hideous exhibitions had already been

deprived of energy. But the hour was not come. The vile Henriot,

commandant of the national guards, came up with fresh forces also on

the day destined to be the last of his own life, proved the means of

carrying to execution this crowd of unhappy and doubtless innocent


On this eventful day, Robespierre arrived in the convention, and beheld

the mountain in close array and completely manned, while, as in the case

of Catiline, the bench on which he himself was accustomed to sit, seemed

purposely deserted. Saint Just, Couthon, Le Bas (his brother-in-law,)

and the younger Robespierre, were the only deputies of name who stood

prepared to support him. But could he make an effectual struggle, he

might depend upon the aid of the servile Barrere, a sort of Belial in

the convention, the meanest, yet not the least able, amongst those

fallen spirits, who, with great adroitness and ingenuity, as well as wit

and eloquence, caught opportunities as they arose, and was eminently

dexterous in being always strong upon the strongest, and safe upon the

safest side. There was a tolerably numerous party ready, in times so

dangerous, to attach themselves to Barrere, as a leader who professed to

guide them to safety if not to honour; and it was the existence of this

vacillating and uncertain body, whose ultimate motions could never be

calculated upon, which rendered it impossible to presage with assurance

the event of any debate in the convention during this dangerous period.

Saint Just arose, in the name of the committee of public safety, to

make, after his own manner, not theirs, a report on the discourse of

Robespierre on the previous evening. He had begun a harangue in the tone

of his patron, declaring that, were the tribune which he occupied the

Tarpeian rock itself, he would not the less, placed as he stood there,

discharge the duties of a patriot. "I am about," he said, "to lift the

veil."--"I tear it asunder," said Tallien, interrupting him. "The public

interest is sacrificed by individuals, who come hither exclusively in

their own name, and conduct themselves as superior to the whole

convention." He forced Saint Just from the tribune, and a violent debate


Billaud Varennes called the attention of the assembly to the sitting of

the Jacobin club on the preceding evening. He declared the military

force of Paris was placed under the command of Henriot, a traitor and a

parricide, who was ready to march the soldiers whom he commanded,

against the convention. He denounced Robespierre himself as a second

Catiline, artful as well as ambitious, whose system it had been to nurse

jealousies and inflame dissentions in the convention, so as to disunite

parties, and even individuals from each other, attack them in detail,

and thus destroy those antagonists separately, upon whose combined and

united strength he dared not have looked.

The convention echoed with applause every violent expression of the

orator, and when Robespierre sprung to the tribune, his voice was

drowned by a general shout of "down with the tyrant!" Tallien moved the

denunciation of Robespierre, with the arrest of Henriot, his

staff-officers, and of others connected with the meditated violence on

the convention. He had undertaken to lead the attack upon the tyrant he

said, and to poignard him in the convention itself, if the members did

not show courage enough to enforce the law against him. With these words

he brandished an unsheathed poignard, as if about to make his purpose

good. Robespierre still struggled hard to obtain audience, but the

tribune was adjudged to Barrere; and the part taken against the fallen

dictator by that versatile and self-interested statesman, was the most

absolute sign that his overthrow was irrecoverable. Torrents of

invective were now uttered from every quarter of the hall, against him

whose single word was wont to hush it into silence.

This scene was dreadful; yet not without its use to those who may be

disposed to look at it as an extraordinary crisis, in which human

passions were brought so singularly into collision. While the vaults of

the hall echoed with exclamations from those who had hitherto been the

accomplices, the flatterers, the followers, at least the timid and

overawed assentors to the dethroned demagogue--he himself, breathless,

foaming, exhausted, like the hunter of classical antiquity when on the

point of being overpowered and torn to pieces by his own hounds, tried

in vain to raise those screech-owl notes, by which the convention had

formerly been terrified and put to silence. He appealed for a hearing

from the president of the assembly, to the various parties of which it

was composed. Rejected by the mountaineers, his former associates, who

now headed the clamour against him, he applied to the Girondists, few

and feeble as they were, and to the more numerous but equally helpless

deputies of the plain, with whom they sheltered. The former shook him

from them with disgust, the last with horror. It was in vain he reminded

individuals that he had spared their lives, while at his mercy. This

might have been applied to every member in the house; to every man in

France; for who was it during two years that had lived on other terms

than under Robespierre's permission? and deeply must he internally have

regretted the clemency, as he might term it, which had left so many with

ungashed throats to bay at him. But his agitated and repeated appeals

were repulsed by some with indignation, by others with sullen, or

embarrassed and timid silence.

A British historian might say, that even Robespierre ought to have been

heard in his defence; and that such calmness would have done honour to

the convention, and dignified their final sentence of condemnation. As

it was, they no doubt treated the guilty individual according to his

deserts: but they fell short of that regularity and manly staidness of

conduct which was due to themselves and to the law, and which would have

given to the punishment of the demagogue the effect and weight of a

solemn and deliberate sentence, in place of its seeming the result of

the hasty and precipitate seizure of a temporary advantage.

Haste was, however, necessary, and must have appeared more so at such a

crisis, than perhaps it really was. Much must be pardoned to the terrors

of the moment, the horrid character of the culprit, and the necessity of

hurrying to a decisive conclusion. We have been told that his last

audible words, contending against the exclamations of hundreds, and the

bell which the president was ringing incessantly, had uttered in the

highest tones which despair could give to a voice naturally shrill and

discordant, dwelt long on the memory, and haunted the dreams of many who

heard him:--"President of assassins," he screamed, "for the last time I

demand privilege of speech!" After this exertion, his breath became

short and faint; and while he still uttered broken murmurs and hoarse

ejaculations, the members of the mountain called out, that the blood of

Danton choked his voice.

The tumult was closed by a decree of arrest against Robespierre, his

brother, Couthon, and Saint Just; Le Bas was included on his own motion,

and indeed could scarce have escaped the fate of his brother-in-law,

though his conduct then, and subsequently, showed more energy than that

of the others. Couthon hugging in his bosom the spaniel upon which he

was wont to exhaust the overflowing of his affected sensibility,

appealed to his decrepitude, and asked whether, maimed of proportion and

activity as he was, he could be suspected of nourishing plans of

violence or ambition. "Wretch," said Legendre, "thou hast the strength

of Hercules for the perpetration of crime." Dumas, president of the

revolutionary tribunal, with Henriot, commandant of the national guards,

and other satellites of Robespierre, were included in the doom of


The convention had declared their sitting permanent, and had taken all

precautions for appealing for protection to the large mass of citizens,

who, wearied out by the reign of terror, were desirous to close it at

all hazards. They quickly had deputations from several of the

neighbouring sections, declaring their adherence to the national

representatives, in whose defence they were arming, and (many

undoubtedly prepared beforehand) were marching in all haste to the

protection of the convention. But they heard also the less pleasing

tidings, that Henriot, having effected the dispersion of those citizens

who had obstructed, as elsewhere mentioned, the execution of the eighty

condemned persons, and consummated that final act of murder, was

approaching the Tuilleries, where they had held their sitting, with a

numerous staff, and such of the Jacobinical forces as could hastily be


Happily for the convention, this commandant of the national guards, on

whose presence of mind and courage the fate of France perhaps for the

moment depended, was as stupid and cowardly as he was brutally

ferocious. He suffered himself without resistance, to be arrested by a

few gens d'armes, the immediate guards of the convention, headed by two

of its members, who behaved in the emergency with equal prudence and


But fortune, or the demon whom he had served, afforded Robespierre

another chance for safety, perhaps even for empire; for moments which a

man of self-possession might have employed for escape, one of desperate

courage might have used for victory, which, considering the divided and

extremely unsettled state of the capital, was likely to be gained by the

boldest competitor.

The arrested deputies had been carried from one prison to another, all

the jailers refusing to receive under their official charge

Robespierre, and those who had aided him in supplying their dark

habitations with such a tide of successive inhabitants. At length the

prisoners were secured in the office of the committee of public safety.

But by this time all was in alarm amongst the commune of Paris, where

Fleuriot the mayor, and Payan the successor of Hebert, convoked the

civic body, despatched municipal officers to raise the city and the

Fauxbourgs in their name, and caused the tocsin to be rung. Payan

speedily assembled a force sufficient to liberate Henriot, Robespierre,

and the other arrested deputies, and to carry them to the Hotel de

Ville, where about two thousand men were congregated, consisting chiefly

of artillerymen, and of insurgents from the suburb of Saint Antoine, who

already expressed their resolution of marching against the convention.

But the selfish and cowardly character of Robespierre was unfit for such

a crisis. He appeared altogether confounded and overwhelmed with what

had passed and was passing around him; and not one of all the victims of

the reign of terror felt its disabling influence so completely as he,

the despot who had so long directed its sway. He had not, even though

the means must have been in his power, the presence of mind to disperse

money in considerable sums, which of itself would not have failed to

insure the support of the revolutionary rabble.

Meantime the convention continued to maintain the bold and commanding

front which they had so suddenly and critically assumed. Upon learning

the escape of the arrested deputies, and hearing of the insurrection at

the Hotel de Ville, they instantly passed a decree outlawing Robespierre

and his associates, inflicting a similar doom upon the mayor of Paris,

the procureur, and other members of the commune, and charging twelve of

their members, the boldest that could be selected, to proceed with the

armed force to the execution of the sentence. The drums of the national

guards now beat to arms in all the sections under authority of the

convention, while the tocsin continued to summon assistance with its

iron voice to Robespierre and the civic magistrates. Every thing

appeared to threaten a violent catastrophe, until it was seen clearly

that the public voice, and especially amongst the national guards, was

declaring itself generally against the terrorists.

The Hotel de Ville was surrounded by about fifteen hundred men, and

cannon turned upon the doors. The force of the assailants was weakest in

point of number, but their leaders were men of spirit, and night

concealed their inferiority of force.

The deputies commissioned for the purpose read the decree of the

assembly to those whom they found assembled in front of the city hall,

and they shrunk from the attempt of defending it, some joining the

assailants, others laying down their arms and dispersing. Meantime the

deserted group of terrorists within conducted themselves like scorpions,

which, when surrounded by a circle of fire, are said to turn their

stings on each other, and on themselves. Mutual and ferocious upbraiding

took place among these miserable men. "Wretch, were these the means you

promised to furnish?" said Payan to Henriot, whom he found intoxicated

and incapable of resolution or exertion; and seizing on him as he spoke,

he precipitated the revolutionary general from a window. Henriot

survived the fall only to drag himself into a drain, in which he was

afterwards discovered and brought out to execution. The younger

Robespierre threw himself from the window, but had not the good fortune

to perish on the spot. It seemed as if even the melancholy fate of

suicide, the last refuge of guilt and despair, was denied to men who had

so long refused every species of mercy to their fellow-creatures. Le Bas

alone had calmness enough to despatch himself with a pistol shot. Saint

Just, after imploring his comrades to kill him, attempted his own life

with an irresolute hand, and failed. Couthon lay beneath the table

brandishing a knife, with which he repeatedly wounded his bosom, without

daring to add force enough to reach his heart. Their chief, Robespierre,

in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself, had only inflicted a

horrible fracture on his under-jaw.

In this situation they were found like wolves in their lair, foul with

blood, mutilated, despairing, and yet not able to die. Robespierre lay

on a table in an anti-room, his head supported by a deal box, and his

hideous countenance half hidden by a bloody and dirty cloth bound round

the shattered chin.

The captives were carried in triumph to the convention, who, without

admitting them to the bar, ordered them, as outlaws, for instant

execution. As the fatal cars passed to the guillotine, those who filled

them, but especially Robespierre, were overwhelmed with execrations from

the friends and relatives of victims whom he had sent on the same

melancholy road. The nature of his previous wound, from which the cloth

had never been removed till the executioner tore it off, added to the

torture of the sufferer. The shattered jaw dropped, and the wretch

yelled aloud to the horror of the spectators. A masque taken from that

dreadful head was long exhibited in different nations of Europe, and

appalled the spectator by its ugliness, and the mixture of fiendish

expression with that of bodily agony.

Thus fell Maximilian Robespierre, after having been the first person in

the French republic for nearly two years, during which time he governed

it upon the principles of Nero or Caligula. His elevation to the

situation which he held, involved more contradictions than perhaps

attach to any similar event in history. A low-born and low-minded tyrant

was permitted to rule with the rod of the most frightful despotism a

people, whose anxiety for liberty had shortly before rendered them

unable to endure the rule of a humane and lawful sovereign. A dastardly

coward arose to the command of one of the bravest nations in the world;

and it was under the auspices of a man who dared scarce fire a pistol,

that the greatest generals in France began their careers of conquest. He

had neither eloquence nor imagination; but substituted in their stead a

miserable, affected, bombastic style, which, until other circumstances

gave him consequence, drew on him general ridicule. Yet against so poor

an orator, all the eloquence of the philosophical Girondists, all the

terrible powers of his associate Danton, employed in a popular

assembly, could not enable them to make an effectual resistance. It may

seem trifling to mention, that in a nation where a good deal of

prepossession is excited by amiable manners and beauty of external

appearance, the person who ascended to the highest power was not only

ill-looking, but singularly mean in person, awkward and constrained in

his address, ignorant how to set about pleasing even when he most

desired to give pleasure, and as tiresome nearly as he was odious and


To compensate all these deficiencies, Robespierre had but an insatiable

ambition, founded on a vanity which made him think himself capable of

filling the highest situation; and therefore gave him daring, when to

dare is frequently to achieve. He mixed a false and overstrained, but

rather fluent species of bombastic composition, with the grossest

flattery to the lowest classes of the people; in consideration of which,

they could not but receive as genuine the praises which he always

bestowed on himself. His prudent resolution to be satisfied with

possessing the essence of power, without seeming to desire its rank and

trappings, formed another art of cajoling the multitude. His watchful

envy, his long-protracted but sure revenge, his craft, which to vulgar

minds supplies the place of wisdom, were his only means of competing

with his distinguished antagonists. And it seems to have been a merited

punishment of the extravagances and abuses of the French revolution,

that it engaged the country in a state of anarchy which permitted a

wretch such as we have described, to be for a long period master of her

destiny. Blood was his element, like that of the other terrorists and he

never fastened with so much pleasure on a new victim; as when he was at

the same time an ancient associate. In an epitaph, of which the

following couplet may serve as a translation, his life was represented

as incompatible with the existence of the human race:--

"Here lies Robespierre--let no tear be shed:

Reader, if he had lived, thou hadst been dead."

The fall of Robespierre ended the "Reign of Terror." Most of the

leaders who had acted a conspicuous part in these horrid scenes, met a

doom similar to that of their leaders. It is impossible to convey to the

reader any adequate conception of the atrocities committed in France

during this gloomy period, in the name of liberty. Men, women, and

children were involved in the massacres which took place at the

instigation of the Jacobin chiefs. Hundreds of both sexes were thrown

into the Loire, and this was called republican marriage and republican

baptism. And it should never be forgotten, that it was not till France

as a nation, had denied the existence of a Deity, and the validity of

his institutions, that she was visited by such terrible calamities. Let

it be "burnt in on the memory" of every generation, that such is the

legitimate tendency of infidel opinions. They first destroy the

conscience--blunt the moral sense--harden the heart, and wither up all

the social and kindly affections, and then their votaries are ripe for

any deed of wickedness within the possibility of accomplishment by human


Says an eloquent writer--"When the Sabbath was abolished in France, the

Mighty God whose being they had denied, and whose worship they

abolished, stood aloof and gave them up,--and a scene of proscription,

and assassination, and desolation, ensued, unparalleled in the annals of

the civilized world. In the city of Paris, there were in 1803, eight

hundred and seven suicides and murders. Among the criminals executed,

there were seven fathers who had poisoned their children, ten husbands

who had murdered their wives, six wives who had poisoned their husbands,

and fifteen children who had destroyed their parents."

It may be profitable here to record the end of several other Jacobin

leaders who had been conspicuous during these scenes of atrocity and

bloodshed. Public opinion demanded that some of the most obnoxious

members should be condemned. After hesitating for some time, at length

the convention, pressed by shame on the one side and fear on the other,

saw the necessity of some active measure, and appointed a commission to

consider and report upon the conduct of the four most obnoxious Jacobin

chiefs, Collot d'Herbois, Billaud Varennes, Vadier, and Barrere. The

report was of course unfavourable; yet upon the case being considered,

the convention were satisfied to condemn them to transportation to

Cayenne. Some resistance was offered to this sentence, so mild in

proportion to what those who underwent it had been in the habit of

inflicting; but it was borne down, and the sentence was carried into

execution. Collot d'Herbois, the demolisher and depopulator of Lyons, is

said to have died in the common hospital, in consequence of drinking off

at once a whole bottle of ardent spirits. Billaud Varennes spent his

time in teaching the innocent parrots of Guiana the frightful jargon of

the revolutionary committee; and finally perished in misery.

These men both belonged to that class of atheists, who, looking up

towards heaven, loudly and literally defied the Deity to make his

existence known by launching his thunderbolts. Miracles are not wrought

on the challenge of a blasphemer more than on the demand of a sceptic;

but both these unhappy men had probably before their death reason to

confess, that in abandoning the wicked to their own free will, a greater

penalty results even in this life, than if Providence had been pleased

to inflict the immediate doom which they had impiously defied.

Encouraged by the success of this decisive measure, the government

proceeded against some of the terrorists whom they had hitherto spared,

but whose fate was now determined, in order to strike dismay into their

party. Six Jacobins, accounted among the most ferocious of the class,

were arrested and delivered up to be tried by a military commission.

They were all deputies of the mountain gang. Certain of their doom, they

adopted a desperate resolution. Among the whole party, they possessed

but one knife, but they resolved it should serve them all for the

purpose of suicide. The instant their sentence was pronounced, one

stabbed himself with this weapon; another snatched the knife from his

companion's dying hand, plunged it in his own bosom, and handed it to

the third, who imitated the dreadful example. Such was the consternation

of the attendants, that no one arrested the fatal progress of the

weapon--all fell either dead or desperately wounded--the last were

despatched by the guillotine.

After this decisive victory, and last dreadful catastrophe, Jacobinism,

considered as a pure and unmixed party, can scarce be said to have again

raised its head in France, although its leaven has gone to qualify and

characterize, in some degree, more than one of the different parties

which have succeeded them. As a political sect, the Jacobins can be

compared to none that ever existed, for none but themselves ever thought

of an organized, regular, and continued system of murdering and

plundering the rich, that they might debauch the poor by the

distribution of their spoils. They bear, however, some resemblance to

the frantic followers of John of Leyden and Knipperdoling, who occupied

Munster in the seventeenth century, and committed, in the name of

religion, the same frantic horrors which the French Jacobins did in that

of freedom. In both cases, the courses adopted by these parties were

most foreign to, and inconsistent with, the alleged motives of their

conduct. The Anabaptists practised every species of vice and cruelty, by

the dictates, they said, of inspiration--the Jacobins imprisoned three

hundred thousand of their countrymen in the name of liberty, and put to

death more than half the number, under the sanction of fraternity.